Restaurant Review: Mission Chinese Food Enters Its Bushwick Phase
Curated for you via The New Yorker.
Ask a grumpy baby boomer just what it is he thinks the kids are up to out there in those abandoned warehouses of Brooklyn, and his worst fears might paint a picture of the new Mission Chinese Food, in Bushwick: a glowing glass façade surrounded by a twenty-four-thousand-square-foot performance venue on an otherwise desolate industrial block. A stark concrete interior lit by an overhead grid of L.E.D. tubes cycling steadily through a range of neon hues. A soundtrack transitioning, somewhat archly, from Ariana Grande to Justin Bieber, at a deafening volume.
The first Mission Chinese Food, named for San Francisco’s Mission District, was, when it opened there, in 2010, a humble sort of experiment: a young chef, Danny Bowien, born in South Korea and raised by adoptive white parents in Oklahoma, took over the kitchen of a nondescript Cantonese restaurant and let his imagination and newfound penchant for Chinese food run wild, developing strikingly confident, electrically flavored dishes like kung-pao pastrami, salt-cod fried rice, and thrice-cooked bacon with rice cakes. The restaurant’s second outpost, which débuted on the Lower East Side in 2012, vaulted Bowien to celebrity not only by establishing his style of cooking as singularly recognizable but also by forging an entire aesthetic, louche and theatrical.
In this latest phase, Bowien, who has been sober for several years, bears the air of an enlightened artist, complete with monkish shaved head. The menu in Bushwick offers a pared-down selection of his greatest hits, with a few new additions. Above the bar, a row of TVs play a series of silent short films, like video art in a museum, each capturing a different diner sitting alone at a table, making his or her way through an enormous spread of food with great intensity. (They’re an homage to mukbang, the South Korean phenomenon of people live-streaming solo meals.) The bathrooms are “Matrix”-themed, complete with score.
The mukbang films, it turns out, are a bit of foreshadowing for what it’s like to eat here, on a good night. On a Thursday in December, I felt, at first, like a baby boomer myself, despite having recently turned thirty-two. I was annoyed at how quickly the light show gave me a headache and at how difficult it was to make conversation, and vaguely scandalized by a relaxed-looking tattooed young mother holding her infant in the crook of one arm, bouncing him along to Grande’s “thank u, next,” as she ate noodles with chopsticks. And then: our food arrived.
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